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Authors of 'Digital_Humanities': Printed Books Are Vital

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This response was written in collaboration by: Anne Burdick, Johanna Drucker, Peter Lunenfeld, Todd Presner, and Jeffrey Schnapp.

With “In the Near Future, Only Very Wealthy Colleges Will Have English Departments,” The New Republic has run a second piece that engages with our co-authored volume, Digital_Humanities, this time by James Pulizzi. We worried about Adam Kirsch's pearl-clutching with the last one, “Technology Is Taking Over English Departments," but here we stand gape-jawed at the sheer incoherence of the argument. The five of us writing for an audience of academic humanists and publishing our thoughts in book form is somehow “ironic,” but Pulizzi posting a Web diatribe about a printed object is not?

In terms of fact-checking, our book isn’t a collection of essays, it’s a co-authored monograph. As for our “inability to move beyond the printed book,” where to start? First, we’d question the implied superiority of the term “beyond.” Second, among the five of us we’ve produced long form arguments in a range of media from Web-based interface design, to online video, interactive comics, geo-locative augmentation projects, museum curation of objects both real and virtual, and open source public archive work. Finally, we and our book are hugely in favor of new modes of knowledge formation, but we also fervently believe that print and books remain powerful and vital parts of the twenty-first century’s media ecology.

It strikes us as odd that in this second, far more technophilic take on our book, the author doesn’t seem to understand that for centuries, the humanities have been involved in thinking though and working with far more than the purely “literary,” as any musicologist, art historian, architectural theorist, or folklorist will tell you. And for the last five decades or more, the humanities have included scholars of cinema, television, and electronic media, most of whom never set foot in an English Department common room. In concluding his piece with moral panic, it seems to us that Pullizi is responding only to Kirsch’s review and our response in the (electronic) pages of TNR rather than actually reasoning through our book’s arguments and calls for action. 

Sincerely and unironically,

Anne Burdick, Johanna Drucker, Peter Lunenfeld, Todd Presner, and Jeffrey Schnapp

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